Book 42: Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist by Andrew Osmond (A-)

A cloud hangs over this book. Published in the relatively brief period between the completion and release of Paprika and Kon’s passing, this book is a complete look at Kon’s career written without the knowledge or viewpoint of being complete. The afterword touches on Kon’s never-to-be realized fifth movie, looking ahead to the next phase of a career that had already reached its climax.

This does not detract from Osmond’s analysis of Kon’s works individually or alongside one another, but that last piece of the puzzle – the entirety of Kon’s oeuvre as a single unit – is missing. Because Osmond didn’t know he was looking at a complete career he never examines any part from that angle, so this book can not quite be said to be the definitive examination of Kon’s output.

But what can be added? Well, there’s room for more in-depth analysis, I’m sure. In any of the movies or the TV series there’s scenes or moments or character beats that can be highlighted and dissected, though the brevity of the book is not due to a superficial analysis. I’d be interested in an expanded edition of this book, one written now with the knowledge that the four movies and one show are all that will ever carry Kon’s name.

And perhaps a look at his legacy, with notes on how Black Swan and Inception owe much to Kon’s works. Just a thought.

Book 41: My first Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (B)

I’ll never be as acclaimed a writer as Ernest Hemingway, I’ll never win a Nobel Prize, and even if I do get a book written and published it probably won’t be remembered after I die.

So yes, who am I to criticize Hemingway in any way? Who am I to say an established classic like this is not deserving of an unadulterated ‘A’? And just how nuts am I to give him a ‘B’? Do I not fear that he will claw his way out of the ground and hunt me down for revenge?

Fourth question: I fear it. First and second question: I’m a guy giving his opinion, that’s who.

Like The Great Gatsby I did not, could not approach Sun just as a book. Hemingway’s enduring legacy and status among American letters makes this A Classic Novel. In other words, something you are supposed to experience more than consume. But also like Gatsby, Sun’s significance comes from being one of those works that so perfectly mirrors the time and world that created it that it practically defines them. It may have a timeless quality, but it’s more a timely work.

This came through for me in the dialogue more than anything. Unlike Shakespearan English or 60’s hippie slang, the jargon of the 20’s hasn’t been carried on in the decades since via movies and TV and parodies of the time period. I could understand what was being said via context (the plot is thin, more on that in a second), but it was just so alien that it took me longer to read than it should have. And yes, the fact that I couldn’t go through this as fast as I expected was an issue. There is challenging and there is dense, and dense does not equal good. If Hemingway had written today I’m sure I would have had no trouble because we’d be speaking the same language.

That’s not Hemingway’s fault, but it does lower the book in my eyes because it affected my experience reading it.

The real problem for me was the paperthin plot and the pages and pages where stuff happens but a story doesn’t. Sure, that’s his style. I get it. But as I’ve said before, I am a narrative driven reader/viewer. I have to be drawn into a series of events leading from one place to another. It doesn’t have to be spectacle, outward action. Inner growth works, and Sun certainly sets up something like that with Jake (the narrator’s) personal troubles and his not-quite-relationship with Brett. The meandering in the first act and their coming back together in the third could have led to something, but the expected (if pedestrian) outpouring of feelings and expression of what is being kept hidden never comes.

Would the book have been better had this resolution, any resolution, taken place? It’s not so easy to say yes. Sure, it would be more conventional and I would be able to get into it easier, but that doesn’t mean it would make for a better work. I understand where Hemingway was after World War I, I understand the mood of the Lost Generation, and I absolutely understand that not everyone can lay their emotions out like movie characters do. Withholding the inner thoughts of Jake and Brett is truer and in keeping with the tone than anything else would have been, and this book would have been forgotten in time otherwise.

The truth that spawned this book is what also ensures its significance, and I’m not about to say it isn’t an important book for its power to evoke a specific mood in a specific point in time. But that doesn’t mean it works for me as a reader. Simply taking in the story via the prose, reading what Hemingway put in and piecing what he left out, I’m satisfied but not blown away. That’s my honest appraisal.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw it last Thursday, but I don’t have anything special to say about it other than I loved it, it’s hilarious, and it’s better than the Avengers. I’ll definitely see it again soon.

Here’s a question

In the Toy Story movies the toys act inanimate when people are around, but they have the ability to demonstrate their conscious existence to humans, as we see at the end of the first movie when they traumatize Sid.

But it’s never explained why they have to or choose to act inanimate. Why the lack of self-preservation in maintaining the illusion that they are nothing but bits of plastic and other materials. So why do they?

Empire!

I knew it! I knew forgot a movie. The Empire Strikes Back.

It even takes place at a frigging school!

professorerudite:

dunesen:

Why didn’t Harry Potter ever study magic? It would have been a big help in fighting Voldemort, I’m sure.

(Please don’t point out others have raised this objection before. I’m sure somebody, somewhere has, but it’s been bothering me for so long I just need to get my thoughts out for my own sake.)

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This is such an accurate analysis of the Harry Potter series. Thank you for writing it.

Someone read it! Wow!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I can’t decide if it’s a significant negative that Dawn manages to go through the first two acts without a clear antagonist, spending time establishing the human and ape characters and giving every one a strong, personal motivation that prevents any from being categorized as ‘the bad guy,’ but then making one downright evil in act three for the sake of a somewhat resolvable obstacle.

Was it necessary to prop up a bad guy who exists just to be defeated? Couldn’t the story be concluded the same way it was without one character moving beyond their understandable and admittedly sympathetic position into ‘I’ll behave like the bad guy because the plot requires it’ territory? I suppose I could have understood their decision to be proactive and hasten the expected clash between humans and apes, but then they go beyond what is necessary, what is defensible, and their initial stance of wanting to protect their group goes out the window as instead they become a tired ‘I want to seize power’ upstart.

Because those first two acts really are nigh-perfect at eschewing the vilification of one side or the other, or of individual characters. Gary Oldman and Caesar’s right-hand ape Koba are opposite sides of the ‘We can’t trust them, we need to strike first’ coin, but neither is just hateful or prone to violence. They’re both thinking of the bigger picture, albeit clouded by their biases and painful memories of the past.

It’s a welcome change to have something like that, a story that can spread its sympathies amongst all the players. But then it has to sacrifice it towards the end to have a more generic climax than what it had been leading up to.

***

Speaking of the humans versus apes battle, it was wonderfully staged. It only lasts a few minutes but the sequence manages to relate a story in the battle, a back-and-forth where each side builds up momentum before the other pushes back and starts to come out on top. There’s no problem keeping track of what is happening or who is currently winning. Great direction in that scene.

Deciding on my favorite movies should not be difficult

One of the things about Tumblr that has jumped out at me is the habit of some people to fill their ‘About Me’ section with a list of franchises they love, as if the fandoms they belong to are their most distinguishing characteristics. Do they really want to identify themselves by their preferences as consumers, I wonder.

This is only tangentially related to my current (second) attempt to come up with a list of my favorite movies. This is supposed to be subjective through and through, nothing but the movies I enjoy watching the most or which affect me emotionally, but for whatever reason the idea of locking in (even without numeric rankings) a specific collection of titles concerns me. Not just because I’m afraid I’m forgetting a title (I’m sure I am), but because stating ‘These are the things I love the most’ makes me feel as if I’m trying to proclaim definitively a certain aspect about myself. That I’m constructing an image of myself in my own head and trying to force it on the rest of the world.

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It even takes place at a frigging school!

Why didn’t Harry Potter ever study magic? It would have been a big help in fighting Voldemort, I’m sure.

(Please don’t point out others have raised this objection before. I’m sure somebody, somewhere has, but it’s been bothering me for so long I just need to get my thoughts out for my own sake.)

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About romance in fiction

Slacktivist posted something yesterday that got under my skin:

“The essence of a romantic comedy is pretty simple: Introduce two characters who belong together, then contrive to keep them apart for about 90 minutes.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is this ‘belong together’ crap? How do you determine they belong together? Because they’re of comparable age and maybe share an interest or two? Or is it just because they’re the leads in the story? ‘Hey, I find these two characters likable. Clearly they should devote their lives to one another because of what I, the third party, think.’

This is what bothers me about romance in fiction: so much of it is driven by tropes that don’t work in real life. Two characters are separated because of class or intra-family strife or whatever? Well then they must belong together! Two characters meet in a charmingly awkward manner? Well then they must belong together! Are they both young and photogenic? They belong together! Are all their friends and coworkers conventiently already in relationships or romantically undesirable in some obvious, probably contrived way? Then these two characters must go together because there can’t possibly be anyone else in their world they can have a lasting relationship with!

And real life doesn’t work that way. Real life is the exact opposite. Whereas movies and books begin with the conclusion already determined (these two belong together), real life doesn’t. Real life sees people get together and, if they are able to stay together despite a number of potential obstacles and pitfalls, build something that becomes a defining part of their lives, both shared and individually. From nothing came something.

There’s no such thing as destiny, there’s no such thing as fate, and we are not characters in a story following a list of plotpoints as we hurtle along to a story-resolving climax after which all out problems and issues are gone. It doesn’t bother me when a story ends without any ‘happily ever after’ vibe, when it acknowledges that this is just a new situation for the characters and will come with its own problems and responsibilities, but that’s pretty rare.

I don’t feel anything when a movie/book/whatever just puts two characters together. I feel something when they come together and make something. Show, don’t tell, especially with something as complex and fragile as burgeoning romance.

(Just to throw this out there: last year we saw Frozen, Her and Blue is the Warmest Color all demonstrate a realistic understanding of what romance is and what it takes for a relationship to work, though only the Disney movie ended with a relationship still in tact. Not sure if that says anything about the difficulty of presenting romance realistically or not.)